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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Phone Company Criminals

Frustrated companies facing crippling bills totalling hundreds of thousands of dollars for phone calls made fraudulently through their voice-mail systems say they are getting little satisfaction trying to straighten out the costly mess. While winning forgiveness for the bills is their top priority, they say the telecom industry must put in place safeguards to protect customers, or else Ottawa should order them to do so.

"The credit cards and the banks have certainly put in technology where things are not as easily taken as they once were - they're constantly evolving as technology progresses whereas Bell is not," said Leah May, officer manager at law firm Martin and Hillyer in Burlington, Ont. "They're just forcing victims to pay for it, and where's the consequence to them?"

Bell Canada's 38-page bill to May's firm was for more than $207,000 worth of calls to Sierra Leone. Bell offered to halve the amount. "That's just not good enough," May said. "We're screaming out loud that we've been victimized." Phone companies maintain customers must ensure their phone systems are protected from what Bell calls "experienced criminals." "Remember that you are responsible for paying for all calls originating from, and charged calls accepted at, your telephone, regardless of who made or accepted them," Bell vice-president Peter Kerr wrote to lawyer John Ford in Oakville, Ont., this month.

In Oakville, GPS Consulting Group and Insurance Agencies had its Bell-installed system hacked to the tune of $76,000 for calls to Austria - even after following advice to change voice-mail passwords. Bell initially said it would take $60,400 but eventually agreed to accept $7,100 after threatening to cut off the lines. That's still too much, said the firm's Gord Cowan. "It's anguish. It's cost us thousands and thousands of dollars of time fighting this," said Cowan, who wants the legislation changed. "These small companies, through a federally regulated company, are being brought to their knees. They'll put us out of business."